The official definition of catch up or catching up is doing tasks one should have done earlier. The problem is that when one has too many tasks (as most do), catching up becomes a state of being instead of something we do once in awhile. If you always feel like you are falling behind and catching up, below are some suggestions that may provide relief for this chronic condition.
When I think about the weekends that I used to spend at the office or staring at my computer catching up, it makes me cringe. I did it to make the week ahead easier. I did it to make more money. I did it so I could take a vacation (even though I worked on vacation too). I did it to prove what a hard worker I was. I did it because I felt guilty for falling behind and I did it because I had way too much to do. Catching up was such a habit at work that I did it at home too. All legitimate reasons, but none of my catching up ever got me caught up.
There was always more.
I thought it was my fault. Why can’t I keep up? Why can’t I match my pace to my overflowing obligations? When I had extra time, instead of taking care of myself, I did more catching up, not connecting to the fact that I was creating even more work for myself. The more I did, the more there was to do.
The illusion of catching up goes something like this: If we take a full day/weekend/week and abandon all the things we enjoy doing, we can get everything done that we feel guilty about not doing before. Then we will feel better, everyone will love us and all will be well in the world.
The reality is that catching up never ends. There will always be more.
5 ways to end the endless game of catching up
These aren’t instructions that you have to follow exactly. These 5 gentle rules help me to slow down, create a little space and to be ok being here instead of working harder to be somewhere else, only to find out I am in the same place … catching up again.
1. Be present
If you are paying attention to what didn’t get done yesterday or what needs to get done tomorrow, your full attention can’t be on what’s going on right now. How can you be your most creative, most interested self (and do your best work), when you have anxiety about all the things that haven’t been done yet?
Choosing to be present is a practice. Whenever you notice that you are worrying about something that’s not happening right now, choose to come back to yourself by taking a few breaths or by putting your hand on your heart. These tactical movements can help bring you back to a more peaceful place. Here are a few more suggestions that will help you be more present and they can help you shift your mood too. You could also practice presence by spending 5 minutes a few times a day to notice your surroundings. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell, feel or taste?
2. Forget about FOMO
One of the reasons you want to keep your hands in everything and be completely up to date and doing all the things is FOMO (fear of missing out). Think about where your attention goes in your life. When you are working, are you trying to pick up on every secret to success tip or do you follow a more slow, consistent approach? In your day-to-day life, how do you decide what to include. Is it by doing what you want and what’s important to you or doing what you think everyone around you wants you to want.
The problem with FOMO is that the more you know, have, do … the more you know, have, do. From activities to self-care to social media, email, books, tv, recipes, health awareness, FOMO will lead you to feeling that you have to keep with everything leaving no room for anything.
Stop. You won’t miss a thing and you will enjoy what you know, have, and do even more. Soon, you’ll forget all about FOMO and look forward to the joy of missing out (JOMO). In 2016, I wrote this in Soulful Simplicity, I will trade my FOMO for JOMO. By committing to doing less, I am going to miss out on things, but instead of fear, I feel joy. Joy that I have a choice, joy that I am protecting what matters most and joy because I feel well. Many years later, I still choose JOMO.
3. Do less.
All of these strategies may help you curb the catching up, but none of it will matter if you don’t recognize why you have to spend so much time catching up and why you always feel like you are falling behind. The answer is simple. It’s too much. You are doing too much. The remedy? Less. Own less. Do less. Care less.
The road from too much to much less is not always easy, but necessary for your health, relationships and happiness. The secret is to simplify anything and everything.
If you don’t have time keep up, you definitely don’t have time to catch up. Instead, let go and start fresh. That might mean declaring email bankruptcy, deleting your social media apps for a bit, being wildly uninformed for a while, addressing your fear of missing out, and it will most certainly mean letting go of what other people think of you.
Above all, by ending the game of catching up, you may discover that you already have everything you need. If you feel the need to have it all, look around. Maybe you already do.
4. Stop comparing.
We can be inspired by others without comparing ourselves. Comparing in terms of who gets the most done, especially in the workplace has no upside. You are often comparing only the output which reinforces the idea that it’s your fault that you can’t keep up.
Odds are, the people you are comparing yourself to work at a different pace, with different obligations outside of work, different levels of privilege, unique health challenges and their own time and energy availability. We can’t compare one part without comparing all of it and who has time for that? P.S. What would be the point?
5. Honor your boundaries.
Time slips away in 5-10 minute segments throughout the day when we don’t honor our boundaries around time. We say, “I’ll just do this one thing” and then we do 5 one things. We say we will leave work at 5 but we stay until 5:20 to catch up. We say we’ll go to bed on time, and then we don’t. As a result we wake up a little later the next day or have less energy and clarity to do the other things we thought we’d do. Practice doing what you say you’ll do for a week. Honor every boundary. You will have more time.
A few places where we don’t have to catch up anymore.
In recent years, I saw the catching up web I was caught in, and I wondered, what if I’m not behind? What if I don’t need more catching up? What if I just am where I am and that is ok? It will all get done, or it won’t. Either way, I will be ok. Call a catch up truce with the following:
- Email. The more you send, the more you receive (otherwise known as vicious cycle). Instead of saving it for later, or checking email on your phone 10 times a day, but never responding, do one solid email triage a day. Don’t respond to anything that doesn’t require a response. Be brief when responding to the email that does. If you have trouble with brevity, set a timer and challenge yourself to answer any email in 5 sentences or less. I prefer 1 or 2.
- Sleep. Staying up late to catch up on things works against you. You can’t sleep an extra 3 hours on Saturday, to make up for the sleep you lost on Wednesday. If you routinely go to sleep and wake up at a similar time, you will be more alert, focused and effective. Sacrificing sleep and compromising other health habits to catch up will put you further behind when you don’t have the energy you need for your work and life.
- The news. If you haven’t read the paper or watched the news in days, you don’t need a news binge to catch up. There is rarely anything new about the news. All you can expect is more hype, stress and fear. (Breaking news is broken.) Turn off the TV and go outside. You’ll learn more about yourself and the world there.
- Social media. If you haven’t checked, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Tiktok in days, you are not obligated to absorb everything that was posted while you were gone. There is no benefit to being caught up on any social media platform. You don’t have to finish the internet.
- Entertainment. The latest TV, books, movies, games, music will be available when and if you are ready for it. If you are never ready, that’s ok too. Letting it go feels so much better than trying to keep up with it all.
You might be familiar with the glass and plastic ball analogy. Think about all of the balls you have up in the air like taking care of yourself, feeding your kids, a project deadline, mental health, physical health, having fun, cleaning house, asking for a raise, emptying your inbox, responding to a text message, creating, watching a movie (and on and on and on). Some of those items are made of glass so if they drop, they will break or be damaged. Others are made of plastic and they bounce. You can pick them up again later (or not). This is not about balance, this is about priority.
If most of this sounds like obvious advice but you are still feeling behind, still overwhelmed with the desire to catch up with things, check in. Be curious. Ask yourself why. I understand there are busier stages of life AND there is still room to cut back. Start small. Those 5-10 minutes and the one more things add up. Save some of your time, some of your energy and some of your life for you.
P.S. Some of these gentle rules won’t apply to you. Let them go and focus on the ones that do. As always, I’m cheering you on.